Sexual deception of a beetle pollinator through floral mimicry

Journal: Current Biology

Published: 2021-03-25

DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2021.03.037

Affiliations: 6

Authors: 8

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Research Highlight

Beetles tricked into ‘mating’ with rare orchid

© Saurav Pandey Photography/Moment/Getty Images

© Saurav Pandey Photography/Moment/Getty Images

A scent released by a critically rare African orchid induces male longhorn beetles to ‘mate’ with the flower and thereby pollinate it.

While sexual mimicry is a common tactic to drive insect pollination among flowers pollinated by wasps and bees, there’s limited evidence that this approach is used to attract beetle pollinators.

Now, a team led by University of Cape Town researchers found that male longhorn beetles exhibited sexual behaviours when they visited the orchid. This behaviours included biting the petals (which resemble antennae) and curving their abdomen into the flower and ejaculating.

The researchers identified a particular compound in the flower’s scent that attracted the male beetles, leading them to conclude that the chemical mimics a pheromone secreted by female longhorn beetles.

The team also observed several beetles carrying pollen from the rare flower, suggesting other plants existed in the same area.

Supported content

  1. Current Biology 31, 1962–1969 (2021). doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2021.03.037
Institutions Share
University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), South Africa 0.38
Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology (MPICE), Germany 0.25
University of Cape Town (UCT), South Africa 0.19
South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), South Africa 0.19